I'm on the cusp of a decadal birthday. Tomorrow I'll be 70. So I've got just a few hours to say something wise about turning 70 before I'm actually there, and then can only talk about what's it's like to actually be so damn freaking old.
I came up with the title of this blog post yesterday, when I was musing about what, if anything, I've learned over these many years.
In a bit of synchronicity, this morning I was reading Michael Pollan's book about psychedelics, "How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence."
I liked the mention of time travel in Pollan's discussion of the difference between an expanded and contracted consciousness.
When, for example, I'm feeling especially generous or grateful, open to feelings and people and nature, I register a sense of expansion. This feeling is often accompanied by a diminution of ego, as well as a falloff in the attention paid to past and future on which the ego feasts. (And depends.)
By the same token, there is a pronounced sense of contraction when I'm obsessing about things or feeling fearful, defensive, rushed, worried, and regretful. (These last two feelings don't exist without time travel.) At such times I feel altogether more me, and not in a good way.
At my age, obviously there is much less in front of me than in back of me. The years I've already lived number far fewer than the years I have left to live -- unless I live until I'm 141.
Which isn't realistic to hope for.
In fact, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that after a certain age, and I feel that I've passed it, both hope for the future and regret about the past are luxuries for the young.
Because most young people have many more years to live. They have plenty of time to learn from their mistakes and to plan for a better future. So it makes sense for their psyche to do the sort of "ego feasting" Pollon speaks of.
What made this relationship fail? How did I end up in such a crappy job? Where do I want to live when I'm tired of this town? Should I have children, and if so, how many? Why doesn't my life seem truly meaningful? How can I make friends with people I really care about? How great will it be after I lose 20 pounds?
There's so many questions. Good questions. Great questions.
Our past and future are filled with them. As Pollon said, it is easy, and often fun, to time travel our way into regrets about the past and hopes for the future. Or other sorts of thoughts about what was and what may come to be.
There's nothing wrong with doing this. But there's a cost. We can't be here and now when we're in there and then.
Now, actually we're always here and now, because there's no other possible place to be. But our present moment attention can be doing the time traveling thing, leaving us less aware of what exists in the reality that's staring right at us, as opposed to a memory of the past or an envisioning of the future.
Along with most people, from what I can tell, the older I get, the faster time seems to fly by.
Of course, this is a cruel feature of human psychology, since 70 year-olds like me (OK, soon to be me) have less years left to live than, say, a 40 year-old, so fairness demands that time pass slower for us senior citizens, so we can make the most of those limited years.
Unfortunately, this sort of fairness isn't a feature of the cosmos, so us old folks need to take time into our own hands.
Psychedelics are one way to do this. Michael Pollan describes in his book how LSD, psilocybin, and the like shake up rigid mental faculties like a snow globe turned upside down. Old ways of seeing the world take a back seat to fresh vistas. Here and now becomes a wonderland, while past and future lack luster.
Tripping out on psychedelics was something I was pleased to do in my college years, but not now. Marijuana, a mild psychedelic, is as close as I want to come to revisiting my Glory Days with LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin.
So this is why I'm paying more attention to what I pay attention to. Sure, I still have regrets about my past and hopes about my future. But just as people make New Year's resolutions, I'm making a New Decade of Life resolution:
The past is gone; the future isn't here yet; and I have no way of knowing how much future remains for me (no one does); thus it makes sense to mostly focus on what is right before me, at this moment, at this place, rather than filling my head with time travel fantasies to a remembered past or possible future.
Yes, this is Mindfulness 101. But I'm eager to take that class. And to repeat it, over and over.